How to Change Stubborn Thinking in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"Once my son (high functioning) has an idea in his head, he won't budge. For example, somewhere he heard that looking into the sun will blind you (which is true). But he has taken this to a whole new level by refusing to go anywhere without his sunglasses. If he doesn't have them before we walk out the door - it's meltdown city! I've told him countless times that as long as he isn't staring directly into the sun, he's not going to lose his eyesight. This discussion goes in one ear and out the other, and this is just one of dozens of examples. My question is: how do you change the mindset of a stubborn child who refuses to listen to reason?"

In all discussions with a High-Functioning Autistic child about a challenging situation, there will be two aspects:
  1. the selling of an idea (your part)
  2. the buying of an idea (your son's part)
Both parts must always be considered together. The best "sales pitch" is incomplete if the new idea is not accepted or "bought." This process requires constant monitoring of progress by the "salesperson," who should look and ask for feedback from the "buyer" regarding this step-by-step approach. A cardinal rule is to never move ahead to the next step without checking to see if the "buyer" is moving with you. If he is not, repeat the last step in another way.

For your son with HFA, this means that you need to convince him that there is a better way to look at - and react to - a situation than what he has shown you. He needs to hear what you are saying, maybe even see it, and then accept it if a better behavior is to occur. 

But you must realize that new thinking doesn't occur easily, because your son is not a blank slate. He already has a competitive version of your idea. Different stories and interpretations are present in his mind that will compete with your new story or mindset. 
If the new mindset or thinking is to succeed, it must replace, suppress, complement, or outweigh every other story or competing version or idea. Only the most powerful argument will win-out when it comes to changing the opinion of a child on the autism spectrum.

Your prior history with your son is a very powerful force in this equation. All previous unproductive discussions and interventions that you have had with him will make your job that much harder, and must be replaced as well. To deal with these factors, you must be persistent, stick to the point, not allow irrelevant items to be brought into the conversation, and provide GOOD reasons for the new thinking (in this case, being outdoors without eye protection is not likely to lead to blindness).

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


•    Anonymous said... Books books books! I could tell my girl something a dozen times and its like talking to a wall. Once its written down, for some reason it sinks in almost instantly.
Why not go to an *eye* website and find something that you can print off .. maybe you can find something that says *prolonged exposure to sub can damage eyes* ... maybe just seeing it like that will make it *click* that it will just damage the eye instead of blinding him.
•    Anonymous said... Doctors and nurses can help too. My son refused to wear socks despite my every attempt to get them on his feet. Finally last year I had the school nurse call him in with her white jacket on and explain to him how socks were necessary, especially with stinky snow boots. She gave him "scientific" hygiene tips and a pair of socks that I provided and wrote him a "prescription" to wear them every day. I haven't had a problem since getting him to wear them.
•    Anonymous said... First of all, I'd like to let you know that i totally understand your own frustration with the unflexibility of your child, it can be so frustrating to us as parents who just want our child to listen to reason. At times my son would get an idea in his head and to me it sounded so unreasonable but in his mind seemed so logical. It does get easier when they get older because you can just let them do the research themselves, when they are younger they tend to not understand idioms. I focused on teaching the understanding that all things people say are not always exact, and if they have a doubt do research... Im pulling for you, it gets easier, i promise!
•    Anonymous said... Having this same problem, I try to let the small battles go. But once my son has an idea formed, there is no letting it go. I have noticed that if someone else tells him, besides his Father or I, he does have more of a tendency to believe them.
•    Anonymous said... HUGS. I have had some success with having my son research the topic on the internet, and then write a couple of ideas down, such as things he can/should do, and things he can't/shouldn't, based upon the research. He won't believe what I tell him, but he will listen to "scientists." And yes, pick your battles! Some things are important in the long term (for self-esteem, education, etc) and some are not.
•    Anonymous said... I allow mine to have his individuality.. When we go through these stages I always make sure I have backup.. ie an extra couple pair of sunglasses in the vehicles in my purse etc etc..
•    Anonymous said... I can empathize & I agree that showing him the info in written form can help since visual cues often work where talking doesn't . Having teachers, etc. reinforce it would be good as long as it's not all at once, just when it naturally comes up. Otherwise, he might feel overwhelmed/ganged up on. Not sweating "small" stuff is good too
•    Anonymous said... I don't try to change my child's mindset, instead for the time being, I let him continue to have what he needs, as long as it doesn't harm him, and continue to let him know that it works a particular way. I also encourage other adults around him (Scouting Leaders, Teachers, Parents of friends, etc) to tell him the same thing, thus showing him it's not just Mom or a Parent in general who is telling him this. You will run into this more and more as he learns more at school and his mind runs wild with the knowledge. My son is now 13 and is doing much better with understanding that everything he hears isn't 100% true, that there are other ways to look at things, although sometimes it doesn't come quickly. Hang in there!
•    Anonymous said... I think some of this gets easier with age and your continual teaching and instructing. Mine used to cry and meltdown even if the diversion in the schedule was getting ice cream something she loves. Now she is 9 and says it is still very hard to deviate the plan but she does it with no meltdown because she is beginning to understand this world is always changing. I always try to give her a list of where and what we are doing so this helps and if I think a change will happen I express it up front. She still has these at times but way less than before.
•    Anonymous said... My aspie son does the same but I let it take its course providing it does not cause him harm. Anyway wearing sunglasses is not a bad thing as it protects the eyes from harmful uv rays and cuts down on wrinkles. I try so hard to get my son to wear them.
•    Anonymous said... my heart goes out to you and to your son. No one can understand that for all of us there are just no easy answers. Keep strong and keep connected.
•    Anonymous said... My son does that occasionally and then we start reasoning with him. In this case, I would say "so many people go outside and their eyesight is fine" if they lost their vision would they still be going outside?" He will think about it for a minute and then say "okay, that sounds ridiculous". There still are some things that he is very stubborn on though.
•    Anonymous said... My son is 14 and, for me, it's getting more difficult with age. I'd love to just "enjoy him" and I find I'm enjoying him less. Much of it has to do with this exact poster's question. At 14 people (and I so I realise I need to work on myself) expect him to b able to reason and understand and agree to cultural norms. It truly is like talking to a brick wall and its crazy making for me (and him). These things don't seem to ease his anxiety if I 'allow' them to run their course. His perseverating actually increases his anxiety and ensures he's even more isolated and depressed once he becomes aware he doesn't fit in or is liked (something else that's increased with age - his awareness of his 'situation'). He understands that he doesn't understand cultural norms and it actually devastates and/or angers him, and definitely alienates him more. I worry for his future and for our relationship. We r desperate for advice in this area!
•    Anonymous said... My son is 16 and, when he was younger, his ideas needed to be everybody's ideas and he didn't understand why they weren't. He took (and still does depending on what it is) everything so literal that when somebody said it was raining cats and dogs outside, he cried and cried and looked out the window thinking he was going to see cats and dogs falling from the sky. What Lori and Angela say is 100% correct and sometimes the only thing that you can do. Now that my son is in his mid-teens, he still has moments where his ideas need to be everybody else's ideas, but I just gently tell him that he needs to do or think what he thinks and not force those things on others because everybody is going to have their own mindset, just as he does. Whether he thinks what others think is right or wrong, he still needs to respect other's way of thinking just as others respect his. Once he is able to process through what I say, it seems to make sense to him but it is just giving him the time to identify those certain mindsets for himself and come to his own conclusions, whether they are right or wrong.
•    Anonymous said... My son wore a bike helmet for months bc he was convinced the sky was going to fall. We just went with it. I've found that most of these fixations run their course if you reinforce a positive outcome and Not focus too much on it unless its a danger or harmful in any way. Wishing you luck and patience in these situations. I hope it gets easier for you both.
•    Anonymous said... One lesson I learned was to try and invade their thoughts with them and then redirect to something else.Example I heard was a little girl would not go sit at restaurant with family,as she was ocd about tracing letters on a sign in the building.The mom had to go to the sign and trace the letters with her hand on her daughters,and then gently break away from it with her. If you can figure out how,getting inside his thoughts and going thru it to another alternative may help. Good luck.
•    Anonymous said... Pick your battles carefully. Put your foot down about the important things, not wearing sunglasses. I do, however, also like the idea of looking up reference info to show him in hopes it could lower his anxiety.
•    Anonymous said... The child's reasoning is sound reasoning for him at that time. My son would have an absolute fit when his early elementary class (regular class) would deviate from the "literal" instructions the teacher would give- of course, as you all know, the instructions were not to be taken literally but rather idiomatic. He will learn for himself when he sees the thousands of people walking around without sunglasses that he doesn't need to wear them all the time. We take so much solace that now our son, now 12 years old, asks for clarity when he senses that there may be something he is not quite understanding the way everyone else is.
•    Anonymous said... You don't. You just have to deal with it. My son is now 23 and those ideas he got into his head somehow long ago are still with him.
•    Anonymous said… My son is an adult now. Asbergers was not a thing when he was younger. I would have given anything for someone to tell me the following when he was a child: your son lives in an exceptional world. I can almost promise you that he is never going to adapt to your world because he simply cannot. You, however, can adapt. It will be a lifelong journey, but to have to REALLY listen without your own agenda or itinerary. Listening without expectation or judging based on our truth. Listen without arguing. Your son will begin to feel that talking to you is SAFE and you will be introduced into a world thst will surprise and challenge you. It is amazing. As you begin to understand how and why he thinks like he will learn how to teach him truths that matter to him because you are speaking his language. I promise you will never convince him that you sre right through any amount of reasoning.
•    Anonymous said… science, really, if you can find information on the retina in an (almost) age appropriate format (usually aimed at a slightly older age group as aspies are often ahead intellectually) and show it to him, I always find my boy feels safer when he has as much information as possible, and a safe boy has less meltdowns x
•    Anonymous said… That is an amazing insight. My son is 5yo. On the end of the diagnosis stage. I really appreciate your view. Thank you. It will help me immensely!

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